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Omens and Oracles: Reading the Future and Retaining the Past in Early China

Semester and Year SP 2017
Course Number IDSEM-UG1664
Section 001
Instructor Ethan Harkness
Days MW
Time 9:30 AM - 10:45 AM
Units 4
Level U
Requirement   HUM, PREMOD, GLOBAL



When ancient Chinese kings seared sacred bones with fire, reading the future from the resulting cracks went hand in hand with creating archival records to preserve the past. In this class, we will explore several interrelated early Chinese divination traditions through classical texts, archaeology, and recently excavated manuscripts. In all cases we will pay attention to the complex interplay between past, present, and future, including aspects of the history of writing, the history of the book, and the interwoven histories of science and religion. After starting with a discussion of the above-mentioned oracle bones, we will proceed to examine the enigmatic  Yijing  ( Book of Changes ), the earliest and most revered of all the Chinese classics. Then we will consider a popularization of divination practices in the form of almanacs that circulated widely in ancient China. Students can expect to try their hands at the actual practice of the various divination techniques covered, but most class time will be used to engage important themes arising from our investigations, Readings may include:  The Ancestral Landscape: Time, Space, and Community in Late Shang China (Ca. 1200-1045 B.C.)  by David Keightley;  Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China  by Peter Hessler; the  Yijing  ( Book of Changes ); selections from  The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 B.C. ; and select scholarly articles.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)